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Ultimate question: Why anything at all?

by bohm2
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SW VandeCarr
#91
Oct26-11, 11:34 PM
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Quote Quote by apeiron View Post
But here in this forum, it is pretty clear that you have to demonstrate why the question has no possible answer before you can call for it to be ruled "off limits".
I would challenge that outright. I don't need to show that no possible answer exists. I have only to refer to this thread and other similar threads that have made no progress toward a satisfactory answer or to even suggest how a satisfactory answer could be formulated outside of some first cause argument. When a first cause argument is framed in terms of "why", it's difficult to see how it's not theological.
Nano-Passion
#92
Oct27-11, 12:11 AM
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THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS!!!! That was an extremely interesting read to say the least!! I've grappled with this question hard and long and this was a very invigorating read.

"Why is there Something rather than Nothing?
If you don’t get dizzy, you really don’t get it."

I like this quote, its very true!
apeiron
#93
Oct27-11, 01:56 AM
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Quote Quote by SW VandeCarr View Post
I would challenge that outright. I don't need to show that no possible answer exists. I have only to refer to this thread and other similar threads that have made no progress toward a satisfactory answer or to even suggest how a satisfactory answer could be formulated outside of some first cause argument. When a first cause argument is framed in terms of "why", it's difficult to see how it's not theological.
But the OP did not offer a "first cause" argument. It was an argument from formal cause.

And when you say "first cause", it is not clear here whether you in fact mean efficient cause or final cause.

Some arguments posit a first event (an efficient cause) - either a god chosing to act, or something like the first arbitrary swerve of an atom in Greek atomist philosopy.

More sophisticated arguments, like Aristotle's, are based on final cause. Things start out as merely potential and then develop towards the actual. So Aristotle's "unmoved mover" was not a god of the "lighting the blue touch paper" variety but the concept of a final state (of actualised perfection) that draws the potential towards it, "inspiring it to develop".

It is the outcome that causes the move. Or perhaps the better way of putting it, it is the limit on change. This is an ontology in which the problem is not about getting anything started, but finding the reason it eventually stops. A very different way of thinking about "why anything".
ThomasT
#94
Oct27-11, 04:12 AM
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Quote Quote by Bohm2
Think of all the possible ways that the world might be, down to every detail. There are infinitely many such possible ways. All these ways seem to be equally probable—which means that the probability of any one of these infinite possibilities actually occurring seems to be zero, and yet one of them happened.
This depends somewhat on how one views/defines the evolution of our universe. Apparently, there's only one possible way "that the world might be, down to every detail" at any given instant, during any given interval -- which is the way that the world actually is.

Depending on one's view/definition of the evolution of our universe, some of the future possibilities that might seem apparent wrt certain views can be ruled out, rendered impossible, wrt certain views. In the views where the evolution of the universe is limited in some way, there's a limited number of possible continuations with each possibility having a positive (> 0) finite probability of occuring.

The assumption that certain fundamental dynamical laws (maybe just one fundamental dynamic) are operational seems to suggest that the evolution of the universe will exhibit certain evident salient, and therefore predictable, characteristics. For example, wrt a local deterministic universe where the speed of change is limited by c, the prediction that the spatial configuration of the universe one nanosecond from a time, t, will not be appreciably different from the spatial configuration at t.

Anyway, wrt our universe, the possibilities don't seem to be infinite, but instead seem to be quite limited -- depending, as I mentioned, on the assumptions one starts with, and there don't seem to be an infinite number of reasonable alternatives from which to choose.

Quote Quote by Bohm2
“Now, there’s only one way for there to be Nothing, right?” There are no variants in Nothing; there being Nothing at all is a single state of affairs. And it’s a total state of affairs; that is, it settles everything—every possible proposition has its truth value settled, true or false, usually false, by there being Nothing. So if Nothing is one way for reality to be, and if the total number of ways for reality to be are infinite, and if all such infinite ways are equally probable so that the probability of any one of them is [essentially] zero, then the probability of ‘there being Nothing’ is also [essentially] zero.” Because there are an infinite number of potential worlds, each specific world would have a zero probability of existing, and because Nothing is only one of these potential worlds—there can be only one kind of Nothing—the probabilily of Nothing existing is zero.
The problem is that there aren't, based on observation and certain inferences relating to observation, reasonably, an infinite number of ways for reality to be. The fact of the matter, the reality of any given universal configuration, is the configuration itself -- which necessarily entails that it isn't some other possible configuration.

But we're just considering the two possibilities, something and nothing. If, since we don't know why there's something rather than nothing, we give these two possibilites equal weight (which I think is the usual probabilistic approach), then each has a 1/2 probability.

However, there is something rather than nothing. Which is all that we know, or can know, about the something vs nothing problem, since, by definitions, we can't experience nothingness. So, we can't even say that nothingness is a possiblity.

Thus, the question does, imo, reduce to, "why/how our universe?". Wrt this I think that there are some cosmological models that extrapolate/speculate back to before the point of departure of the mainstream "big bang" cosmologies.

Quote Quote by bohm2
Does the argument sound persuasive?
No.
apeiron
#95
Oct27-11, 04:19 AM
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A good thinker on the issue is the process philosopher Nicholas Rescher.

See "On explaining existence" - http://cla.calpoly.edu/~rgrazian/doc...gExistence.pdf

Briefly, he outlines why efficient cause-based explanations fail. Then argues for a "constraint of possibility" approach - what he calls the hylarchic principle.

Existence-explanation via a hylarchic principle of protolaw turns on a distinction between substantival explanations in terms of the operations of entities and process explanations in terms of primordial operational principles - principles that underlie rather than merely reflect the nature of the real. It is predicated on acknowledging that explanation in the case of existence-at-large cannot operate in the orthodox order of the efficient causation of preexisting things. In resorting to a hylarchic principle one can thus abandon altogether the hoary dogma that things can only come from things. A fundamental shift in explanatory methodology is at issue with this hylarchic approach - the shift to a nomological mode of explanation that operates in terms of laws which lack any and all prior embedding in an order of things. The fact of the world’s nonemptiness is now accounted for as the consequence of a constraint by principles rather than as the product of the operation of causes.
The neat trick he wants to then pull off is to show that because there are grades of possibility - with only the constraint-satisfying kinds being "real" - then the possibility of nothingness can be ruled out (so proving there must always be something as some possibilities will always become the actual due to the causality of proto-laws).

The role of a hylarchic principle is now clear. As a protophysical law of a characteristically preexistential kind, it reduces the range of real possibility so as to exclude from it (inter alia) those worlds that are existentially empty. A hylarchic principle is simply a particular sort of possibility-restricting condition - a rather special one that narrows the range of eligible cases down to nonempty worlds. And so the task of explaining why there is something rather than nothing can be discharged by relatively orthodox, direct and unproblematic means, since what is necessary must be actual.
Still more ambitiously, Rescher hopes then to connect to science by suggesting that GR or QM may already be laws of this form - ones that exclude null outcomes as actual possibilities.

For such an approach to work, it would have to transpire that the only ultimately viable solutions to those cosmic equations are existential solutions. This explanatory strategy casts those “fundamental field equations” in a rather special light. They are not seen as ordinary laws of nature that can be construed as describing the modus operandi of real things that are already present in the world, but rather as preeconditions for the real - as delimiting the sorts of possibilities that can be realized. We thus have an account of the following structure: The fundamental field equations, seen to function not merely as laws OF nature, but as laws FOR nature, as protolaws in present terminology - delineate the domain of real possibility. And the nature of this domain is then, in its turn, such as to constrain the existence of things.
ThomasT
#96
Oct27-11, 06:46 AM
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@ apeiron,

Thanks for the links and comments. Whatever you write wrt anything has always made me think and provided motivation to learn more.
bohm2
#97
Oct27-11, 01:47 PM
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Quote Quote by MarcoD View Post
But I mostly reject mathematics as a basis for philosophical.
This sorta of argument is a very strong argument against the original position at the start of the thread, I think. If one assumes that mind-independent reality transcends mathematical (necessary) truths/logic (e.g. reality is not mathematical), then these types of arguments are arguably not very convincing. I'm going to read the Rescher piece. Looks interesting.
ThomasT
#98
Oct27-11, 04:51 PM
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Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
This sorta of argument is a very strong argument against the original position at the start of the thread, I think. If one assumes that mind-independent reality transcends mathematical (necessary) truths/logic (e.g. reality is not mathematical), then these types of arguments are arguably not very convincing. I'm going to read the Rescher piece. Looks interesting.
I'm glad you're going to read the Rescher piece. I was printing it out (I like to read upside down ... resting) when I ran out of black ink.

I will trust your assessment of it.

What I've read of it so far seems to be in line with the my current mode of thinking on this.
bohm2
#99
Oct28-11, 06:39 PM
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Quote Quote by ThomasT View Post
I will trust your assessment of it.
I don't trust myself because I'm having a lot of difficulty understanding some his arguments. In my mind, of all of Rescher's possible responses to the question "Why is there anything at all?", the one that I found the most compelling (but unfortunately also unappealing, as Rescher notes) is Mystification: the question is legitimate but unanswerable for a linguistic ground chimp like us. Back to Mcginn's argument, again.

Specifically, I had trouble understanding his Nomological Approach for the major reason that he notes himself:

"How is one to account for the protolaws themselves?". It seems like that approach is just passing the buck elsewhere and the problem remains? I kind of was sympathetic to the mathematical/probabilistic arguments quoted at start of this thread because they were simple but in all honestly I think MarcoD's criticism is extremely persuasive to me, especially since I lean towards treating mathematical objects as mental stuff. I'm guessing that someone who is more of a Platonist on mathematics (e.g. Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis, come to mind) may be more persuaded by Rescher's arguments, I think? One author who takes a very Platonic approach in trying to answer this question is Rickles:

The strategy I am advocating is that physics, in becoming more or less completely aligned to mathematics (in terms of content, at least), will be able to penetrate down the ladder of explanation to the very deepest rung of all: existence. We do not have the same kind of problem with the existence of mathematics. Mathematical statements are necessarily true in the sense that if they are true in one world (in the sense of modal logic) then they are true in all worlds. They are not created. They are not located in spacetime. The question of why is there something rather than nothing simply does not make sense if the somethings in question are mathematical.

http://www.fqxi.org/data/essay-conte...les_fqxi_2.pdf
qsa
#100
Oct28-11, 08:39 PM
P: 362
How about this take. Something implies that there was a chain of causes that resulted in that something and that means there is a reason for it to be true. But, Nothing is by definition has no cause so it is missing what can make it true.

But what was the initial cause is a question for physicists and not philosophers.
apeiron
#101
Oct29-11, 05:25 PM
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Quote Quote by qsa View Post
But, Nothing is by definition has no cause so it is missing what can make it true.
But wouldn't the absence of causes be part of the definition of true nothingness? Causality would have to be one of the things "not there".
qsa
#102
Oct29-11, 05:54 PM
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Quote Quote by apeiron View Post
But wouldn't the absence of causes be part of the definition of true nothingness? Causality would have to be one of the things "not there".
I would say causality would be only concerned with " it is here".
apeiron
#103
Oct29-11, 06:27 PM
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Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
"How is one to account for the protolaws themselves?". It seems like that approach is just passing the buck elsewhere and the problem remains?
This is where Rescher would benefit from a more Peircean approach. If you are taking a developmental perspective, it is no problem for "laws" - globally general constraints - to emerge from vague and tentative beginnings.

Both laws and what they regulate develop jointly. Ultimately they are cut from the same cloth - the kind of absolute state of possibility that Peirce called vagueness.

One author who takes a very Platonic approach in trying to answer this question is Rickles:
Interesting paper, but Rickles kind of kills his own argument by citing Connes on the view that there is "primordial mathematical reality" out there which is separate from the "deductive tools" which exist in our heads.

So reality looks mathematical, rather than reality is mathematical. There may be a correspondence between the two, but it is epistemic, not ontic. And thus the way that the world takes on mathematical-looking form (ie: develops some set of laws, regularities or constraints) might be entirely different to the way humans reconstruct those forms (via a logico-deductive process).

And then the core of Rickles' argument is that he can imagine subtracting away all material objects so as to create an empty reality - a nothingness - but he can't imagine how to subtract away the existence of mathematical truths. They are always going to be there (well, somewhere) even in the absence of any thing. So a state of no-thing is impossible as an actuality.

But this has holes. If, as I argue, maths describes forms, and thus constraints, you don't subtract them away, you get rid of them by relaxing them. You remove by generalising (such as going from a geometric to a topological level of description).

An empty world - in the sense of one with all its possible local degrees of freedom definitely removed, all its contingent facts erased - is in fact in a highly constrained state. Indeed, infinitely constrained. We would be talking about everything being completely limited and so nothing actually occuring. But that would leave this "empty" world now also completely full of contraint.

Rickles' view is that it is trivial to subtract away local degrees of freedom, but impossible to subtract away mathematical forms. My argument is instead that the two aspects of existence are a yo-yo balance, and any effort to remove one gives you more of the other. It is for this reason that there is always something rather than nothing.

Relaxing constraints give you more degrees of freedom. Tightening constraints gives you less degrees of freedom.

So again, it is not that subtracting one is trivial and the other impossible which forbids the existence of nothingness, but the reciprocal causal relationship that constraints and degrees of freedom have with each other.
bohm2
#104
Nov2-11, 05:23 PM
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Quote Quote by apeiron View Post
Interesting paper, but Rickles kind of kills his own argument by citing Connes on the view that there is "primordial mathematical reality" out there which is separate from the "deductive tools" which exist in our heads.

So reality looks mathematical, rather than reality is mathematical. There may be a correspondence between the two, but it is epistemic, not ontic. And thus the way that the world takes on mathematical-looking form (ie: develops some set of laws, regularities or constraints) might be entirely different to the way humans reconstruct those forms (via a logico-deductive process).
I'm lost here also. As I see it, I think the major problem with Rickle's argument is the following statement:

"so long as we are willing to accept that reality is mathematical".

That’s a major problem especially for those who view mathematics as mental objects or believe that reality transcends mathematics (MarcoD). I always assumed that qualia/consciousness defies mathematical/formal description so the existence of such stuff seems to seriously raise doubts about whether mathematics can fully describe reality. There are some, however, who argue that this isn’t a major stumbling block because we have no way of knowing "what is like to be a mathematical structure", so maybe certain mathematical structures could have the intrinsic properties we associate with qualia/consciousness? I’m not sure I buy this argument.

Furthermore, maybe I’m misunderstanding but is Rickle’s point that there is no problem concerning Godel’s theorem, with respect to his position, valid? He seems to suggest all of the following:

1. Godel’s theorem does not tell us that there is any problem with mathematical truths per se; only that there is no algorithmic way of generating all such truths. We must distinguish truth and provability.
2. Furthermore, there’s a distinction between the tools (i.e. theories) we use to represent reality and the reality itself.
3. Godel’s incompleteness theorem applies to the former alone (theories). Indeed, this does impose a limitation on physics’ theoretical prowess in that if reality is a certain way (related to properties of arithmetic) then a complete account using any logico-mathematical representation will prove to be impossible. This is an epistemic limitation rather than a limitation imposed on reality.

But then he also suggests that for his argument to be valid one has to accept the view that:

4. Reality is mathematical.

Wouldn’t that imply that there is no difference between the tools (i.e. theories) and reality so that Godel’s incompleteness theorem would apply? Maybe I'm mistaken. I have trouble with these types of arguments.
Maui
#105
Nov7-11, 07:08 PM
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Quote Quote by qsa View Post
How about this take. Something implies that there was a chain of causes that resulted in that something and that means there is a reason for it to be true. But, Nothing is by definition has no cause so it is missing what can make it true.

But what was the initial cause is a question for physicists and not philosophers.


That is a non-question... like most others. It's been known for a while now that everything is out of our immediate reach - consciouness, matter, time, space, spacetime... even causality which is the BASIS for ALL our knowledge has been shaken by modern theories like quantum mechanics. Then neuroscientists keep pressing that being conscious is an automatic and autonomous process, much like being asleep and dreaming and perceiving your decisions after the fact. Push hard enough and you cannot but see that we don't really understand anything, anything at all. Nothing "has really changed since Socrates and his famous "I know that i know nothing" unless you want to fool yourself into the common delusion(which falls down on its face upon closer examination)
epenguin
#106
Nov7-11, 07:14 PM
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I will now give the explanation I thought of the last but one time this question was asked here, I think this happens roughly every three months, which is that if there were nothing there would be nothing to prevent there being something whereas if there is something there is something to prevent there being nothing.
bohm2
#107
Nov7-11, 07:22 PM
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Quote Quote by Maui View Post
"I know that i know nothing"
Wouldn't that lead to some type of regression? I still think Descarte's argument is pretty strong: "I think, I exist". That was a pretty simple argument and yet very profound. Unfortunately, beyond that, certainty in our knowledge seems pretty questionable. Unless, you are a Platonist, I guess?
Maui
#108
Nov7-11, 07:40 PM
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Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
Wouldn't that lead to some type of regression?
Sure that's an oximoron but science isn't a scroll of truths. It's an endevor to help us get along.


I still think Descarte's argument is pretty strong: "I think, I exist". That was a pretty simple argument and yet very profound. Unfortunately, beyond that, certainty in our knowledge seems pretty questionable.


"There is an experience of being" - that would be less questionable by the neuroscientists' lot than the "I" implied by Decartes which would seem a too loaded term to the current trend of approaching the consciousness topic.

I have a different opinion than the general stance of neurology, but on the other hand, i don't disagree with their stance entirely. I just don't think it's all there is to consciousness at all.


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